Gender disparities emerge in SME tech effectiveness

Nearly two thirds (63%) of South African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are making effective use of technology, but there is a significant gap in the effectiveness of technology use between male and female business owners, according to a recently published executive summary on the tech industry.

This is according to the South African SME Tech Index 2023, a new measure of technology effectiveness, based on research conducted by World Wide Worx on behalf of total workspace solutions provider Nashua.

The Index is drawn from the percentage of SMEs that self-report as being highly effective in their use of technology. This in turn allows technology effectiveness measured across industries, company sizes and the gender of their leadership.

The research, which surveyed over 300 SMEs, shows that the 2023 SME Tech Index stands at 72% for male-led businesses, and 56% for female-led businesses, highlighting a disparity in access to technology. This suggests that addressing the divide in technology use effectiveness across genders could help female-owned companies to boost their growth and competitiveness.

Arthur Goldstuck

READ MORE: South African SMEs use technology effectively to navigate a challenging business landscape

Bridging the technology divide

“Female-owned companies in our research show higher business growth compared to male-owned companies, indicating their competitiveness and ability to navigate challenges,” says Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx. “Yet they have a lower perception of technology effectiveness than their male counterparts, as well as lower levels of tech investment.

“This suggests that women in smaller businesses face barriers such as limited resources, lack of training, and societal norms in leveraging technology. By addressing these barriers, through access to resources, training programmes, and mentorship, the industry can help foster gender diversity and equal opportunities. It is clear, from their overall competitiveness, that such investment will reap dividends for the businesses as well as for the economy.”

Vibrant and resilient

The research paints a picture of a vibrant and resilient small business sector, where neither male nor female business owners are allowing the many economic challenges South Africa faces to dent their confidence. Nine out of ten business owners report that their companies are competitive, while 58% say their business has grown over the past year and 85% expect to grow in the year to come.

SME owners aren’t allowing load shedding to get them down. The majority confirm that load shedding has had a negative effect on their businesses, but nearly 85% say that their load shedding countermeasures are effective. More than half (55.8%) have invested in generators as their primary countermeasure, while 16.5% are already using solar panels as their primary backup power source.

Tech spending trends: SMEs invest in ICT

Of the overall sample, 45% increased tech spending in the last 12 months and 38% plan to increase spending in the next 12 months. Around 47% maintained spending at the same level in the previous months and 56% plan to do so in the next 12 months. Only 5.6% plan to reduce spending in the next 12 months, down from 11.2% who curtailed spending in the previous year.

Technology accounts for a sizeable portion of SMEs’ expenses, with close to 56% spending more than 5% of their budget on ICT and around 28% spending more than 10%. The cost of technology infrastructure and services emerges as the primary challenge in technology adoption for both male and female companies, with approximately half of them identifying it as a key obstacle.

Barry Venter, CEO of Nashua, says: “The small business sector is vital to job creation and economic growth in South Africa. As such, it’s encouraging to see the research confirm that our SME sector is adaptable, optimistic and putting technology to effective use. But it’s also clear that many entrepreneurs, especially women, still face barriers to adoption of ICT solutions.

“As a Total Workspace Solutions Provider, we offer SMEs world class solutions, consulting and services that enable them to focus on their core operations and grow their businesses. We’re also working with our franchisees to empower business owners and decision makers with insights and advice that removes barriers and helps them to future-proof their businesses.”

Barry Venter

The role of gender

The study reveals that the size of the company plays a crucial role in gender diversity, with companies housing 11-20 employees exhibiting positive gender representation in ownership and management. Interestingly, while both male and female-led companies perceive themselves as equally competitive, female-led companies exhibit a more positive self-perception regarding their competitiveness.

However, a notable gap in technology effectiveness emerges, with female-led companies reporting lower perceptions of technology’s impact. Furthermore, female-led companies place a higher importance on being “always on,” a factor critical to their operational success. Despite this difference, both genders balance the importance of this factor.

Loadshedding, a persistent issue in certain regions, has a gendered impact, disproportionately affecting female-led companies. Yet, these companies showcase an impressive proactive approach to managing this challenge, evidenced by more effective countermeasures compared to their male-led counterparts. Notably, generators are the primary solution employed by both genders, with female-led companies relying more heavily on them.

Business growth trajectories exhibit a positive trend for female-led companies, demonstrating their competitiveness and adeptness at overcoming challenges. However, disparities in technology adoption and investment potentially hinder their growth, with fewer female-led companies increasing technology investments.

Regarding technology infrastructure, male-led companies exhibit a higher prevalence of dedicated IT departments, contributing to their more effective technology use. Female-led companies, on the other hand, tend to rely more on external IT support due to resource limitations or a preference for outsourcing technical responsibilities.

A technological divide is evident in the choice of internet services, with fibre being the preferred option for both genders, particularly among female-led companies. Similarly, technology adoption rates vary, with female-led companies demonstrating higher utilization of tablets, accounting software, collaboration tools, and cloud technology.

Distinct priorities emerge concerning office automation, with male-led companies valuing general office automation, while female-led companies prioritise hardware optimization and workflow automation. The need for technology services centers around hardware, software procurement, cybersecurity, and cloud solutions, with both genders expressing a preference for in-person support.


In conclusion, the research illuminates the intricate interplay between gender, technology, and business management. The findings underscore the need for tailored strategies to bridge technology disparities and empower female-led companies to thrive in a competitive landscape.

• Download The South African SME Tech Index 2023 report here.